It has been, by my count, a little over a week since Clarion West began. One by one, the class has been making the trip to the basement, returning hours later carrying warm bags of laundry, smelling of soap and heated cotton.
The first load of laundry is a ritual of ownership, the dividing line between a traveller sleeping on a borrowed bed, and one who has come to stay. There’s a sanctity in its mundaneness and understated necessity, yet a startling lack of pretension: It is what it is. There is no glamour in stuffing your dirty underwear into a heavy-duty rotating drum, along with your socks and bras and everything else. You can romanticise sleep, and eating, and the the taking of baths, but taking care of a bagful of manky shirts just says “Yeah, entropy fucking sucks, now run to the bank to get more quarters.”
(There’s a confluence of history here: My mother’s mother was a washerwoman, raising eight children on the money she got from washing other people’s clothing. Living in my mother’s house, I was never allowed to do the laundry as it all had to be hand-washed. “SIX WEEKS OF LAUNDRY FREEDOM!” I literally yelled to my classmates on the first day I was here.)
When I was packing for Clarion West, figuring out what to bring in the way of clothes threatened me with aneurysms. Six weeks! I’ve never been away from home this long. I pack on an outfit-by-outfit basis for vacations; in between luggage weight limits and the size of my wardrobe, that was clearly no option. And the weather. I was told that it rained in Seattle all the time, and my fuzzy memories of Seattle from fifteen years back said: Cold. Yet I was also told that it had hit 38 degrees Celsius at some points at previous Clarion Wests. Bad enough that I was packing for one climate, but one that switched sides at a whim was too much.
In the end, I packed clothes by categories. Tops, leggings, overshirts, undergarments: A least a week’s worth of each. Warm things to top up with. So far, it’s worked. It’s 29 degrees Celsius in my room as I type this: Earlier this week it was 19. I’m still alive. (I don’t particularly look forward to next Tuesday, which is forecast to hit a peak somewhere in the thirties. I don’t have a fan or an air conditioner in my room.)
At some point, I’m going to have to run to the store to buy more detergent.
** Title from a bastardisation of Radiohead’s Street Spirit to make it about laundry: “Rows of trousers/All hanging down on me/I can feel their/Their blue legs touching me” … all the way to “IMMERSE YOUR CLOTHES IN SOAP”